In every presidential election cycle the conversation in Virginia inevitably turns to the next election for Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General. That’s because Virginia and New Jersey are the only states to hold statewide elections in the year immediately following a presidential vote. Their elections are seen as barometers of the public’s mood after electing a president. Virginia and Loudoun County are especially good barometers because they’re considered a swing state and county in national and statewide elections, respectively.
The Tribune’s coverage of Virginia’s 2017 statewide elections starts today and will include analysis of the candidates’ positions once Democrats and Republicans select their nominees. Many have already announced; others have dropped their names to test the waters. The Tribune will also cover candidates who represent Loudoun County, or wish to, including elections for the state Senate and House of Delegates.
Last month, our editors met with Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, who represents the 27th district as one of 21 Republicans in the 40-member state Senate. Her district includes the Middleburg, St. Louis and Aldie precincts of Loudoun, as well as Clarke, Fauquier and Frederick counties, the city of Winchester and two precincts each in Culpeper and Stafford counties.
Vogel announced her candidacy for the Republican nomination for Lt. Governor in March. Since then she has been traveling the state, meeting with Republican activists, and raising money. Two colleagues in the General Assembly have declared they are seeking the nomination too – Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-17) of Fredericksburg, and Del. Glen Davis (R-84) of Virginia Beach.
Vogel, 45, was elected in 2007 and is serving her third term in the state Senate. Reeves is in his second term, and Davis was elected in 2013.
Among the Democrats, Northern Virginia lawyer Justin Fairfax is the only announced candidate so far. Fairfax lost to Attorney General Mark Herring in the party’s primary election three years ago, and is a former assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
A native Virginian, Vogel is married and the mother of six children. She’s a nationally known nonprofits, elections and ethics lawyer practicing in Winchester, a former deputy general counsel of the Department of Energy, and a graduate of the College of William and Mary and DePaul University School of Law.
Vogel says that balancing home, work and public service is important, and that her family is her top priority. On priorities, she also makes the case that Virginia’s government needs a new one – leadership that earns the public’s trust in government and its ability to get things done. This is one reason why, Vogel says, she’s running for statewide office.
Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) chairman John Whitbeck, a Leesburg lawyer, says “we have the most talented group of candidates we’ve ever had for statewide office.” Given the likelihood that the next Lt. Governor will be called on to break tie votes in the Senate, Whitbeck says the office has never been more important. “The Lt. Governor is critical to the functioning of the General Assembly, and should not be looked at as a stepping stone to the Governor’s office,” he explained.
Whitbeck predicts a statewide sweep for Republicans in 2017, and points to the legislative and campaign experience of Vogel and the other two candidates seeking the party’s nomination for Lt. Governor. “They’re tested and they know how to win,” he said.
Why did you make the decision to run for Lt. Governor?
I have a lot of passion about what’s happening in Virginia and where we’re headed. It’s time for a different kind of leadership in Richmond, and for better decisions to help Virginia’s economy grow. I will be pushing more for our technology sector to grow, for jobs to grow and for the economy to grow, and I’ve been most effective in the past when I’ve put principal over party.
Are you making ethics part of your campaign platform?
Absolutely. I’m an ethics lawyer and I practice in all 50 states. Let’s have a gift ban in Virginia for all legislators, just like they do for Congress. Take those issues out so there is not even the appearance of an ethics issues. Same thing for using the proceeds of your campaign funds for personal use. All this should be off the table.
In that case how do you feel about the ethics prosecution of former Gov. McDonnell?
It has tarnished the Governor’s office. Perhaps there were bad decisions, but this has gone on and on for too long. We need to change the law in Virginia so it’s not so ambiguous and impossible to apply. Let’s just ban gifts. [Immediately after the interview it was reported that the U.S. Supreme Court threw out McDonnell’s conviction.]
What do you think of the Democrat holding the Lt. Governor’s office, who is now running for Governor?
Everyone who knows Ralph Northam knows him to be a good person, but his politics are different than mine. He’s changed since we were both elected to the state Senate. I charged ahead and was an advocate for government reform, business, veterans issues and other things, and I see him as having been pulled away from Virginia’s issues and toward national Democratic issues. That’s also been the big disappointment about Mark Herring, who hasn’t defended the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
You mention technology a lot. Isn’t government doing enough to support this sector?
I chair the finance subcommittee that’s in charge of money for technology and other things and I look at forward-thinking states like North Carolina and Texas and see some companies are leaving Virginia or not coming because we’re not doing enough.
How do feel about the governor acting by executive order on controversial matters, such as the restoring certain rights to thousands of felons as Gov. McAuliffe recently did?
It’s disappointing and shocking. As a process matter, there are times when the governor can issue an executive order, such as when the legislature cannot act because it’s not in session and it’s in his purview. I believe you can pay your debt to society, I believe in restoration of rights. We’re all human and we all make mistakes. But you go on a case-by-case basis, just as I do for clients coming to me as their lawyer, by filing an application to get their rights restored. That’s the right process, not by the governor doing it at the eleventh hour without any discussion with legislators or prosecutors, and without considering the impact on victims and who might be selected for a jury. I would say the same thing if a Republican or a Democrat did this.
Will you support and campaign for Donald Trump as the Republican nominee for President?
Yes, I will. I am a not, never Hillary Clinton person. When it comes to populating the executive branch and decisions about the U.S. Supreme Court, I think Donald Trump would absolutely put people in place I would support.
As one of the most prominent women in public office in Virginia, how do you feel that most women appear to be supporting Hillary Clinton, and about some of the things said by Donald Trump?
I’m not ready to say it’s going to be as clean as some people think. If you’re looking at who is advancing women’s issues in Virginia, such as women’s health, who is showing that you can have a job, be a professional woman, run for office, and have a family, that’s me. When I go around Virginia and talk to women I remind them that conservatives are fighting for women’s rights, including property rights and Second Amendment rights. And the women I’ve talked with are unbelievably supportive of Donald Trump. He has said things that are offensive, things I flat out disagree with and wish he had never said. But the stakes are so high in this election, and his lapses in judgment and insulting remarks are nothing compared to the ethical lapses and decisions by Hillary Clinton and how she has lived her political life.
What would you do to mitigate the chance of more shootings like what just happened in Orlando? What do we do to get past the rhetoric and gridlock in Congress and the states?
First, enforce the laws we have, don’t let convicted felons get access to weapons. Then do more to identify the mentally ill who might become a law enforcement problem. I will never be in favor of limiting gun owner’s rights.
How do you stop those kind of people from buying a gun at a gun show?
I agree that our goal should be to protect the public and keep those kind of people from hurting the public or hurting themselves.
What about universal background checks?
I don’t think it’s necessary. I’m in favor of all kinds of safety measures, but I will draw the line and say we should all have the right to defend ourselves with a weapon.
Talk about leadership and your approach.
I’m prepared to be wildly unpopular. I’m here for solutions, I’m here to be effective. We’ve got to discuss health care in Virginia, such as COPN [Certificate of Public Need] reform and competition. Health care is the largest employer in most districts in Virginia, and has more impact on the quality of people’s lives. Everyone’s going to have to give a little, I believe there is a middle ground and it’s not just about more beds. Tech and education are the same way. Why can’t we have a 5-year plan, 10- and 15-year plans too.
What public figure is your role model?
My dad. He’s not a public figure, but he had a tremendous work ethic, he built a business, he was highly ethical, and he was kind to everybody. He set a great example for me from the time I was a little child. Dad told me if you’re going to take the time to do something, do it well.